ANCHORAGE — A repeat drunken driver who was convicted of consuming at least a dozen drinks and causing a deadly head-on crash is seeking a new trial because of anannouncement that aired more than 1,400 times during her trial.
Former oil company executive Lori Phillips was found guilty in November of second-degree murder in the death of Louis Clement. Authorities say she drove her SUV into a car while going the wrong way on a highway, killing Clement and severely injuring his fiancée and mother of his young child. The trial judge considered Phillips too dangerous to release on bail because of the possibility she would drink and drive again. She was to have been sentenced in March, but her lawyer is seeking a new trial because a public service announcement discouraging drunken driving was broadcast at the same time the trial was under way for more than two weeks in 2010.
Phillips’ lawyer, Rex Butler, did not immediately return a call Thursday.
At issue is the PSA, which features Nancy Bidwell, whose 17-year-old daughter was killed in 1983 by a drunken driver. Bidwell and her husband, Royal, were daily attendees at Phillips’ trial.
Nancy Bidwell sees no connection between the trial and the PSA.
“It had nothing to do with her,” Bidwell said Thursday. “I was up there and telling what happened to my daughter.”
Prosecutor Clint Campion said the judge was aware of the PSA during the trial and instructed jurors to avoid watching it. Butler’s request for a new trial came after it became known how many times the PSA aired on network television and 59 cable stations, he said.
The judge now will have to decide whether Phillips deserves a new trial given the information about how frequently the PSA ran and if it impacted the trial, Campion said. He believes she did get a fair trial.
In Phillips’ case, Clement, 23, died instantly on Nov. 5, 2009, when Phillips’ full-sized SUV crashed head-on into his small sedan while going the wrong way during rush hour.
Phillips got confused driving home from a hair salon appointment, overshot her exit and ended up on the wrong side of the road driving against the traffic. There was no evidence she braked or swerved before plowing into Clement’s car. His fiancée, Joyua Stovall, was seriously injured and testified from a wheelchair.
At the time of the accident, Phillips was out on bail on a DUI charge from earlier in the year. Police said her blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit.
It wasn’t the first time Phillips got drunk and drove. She had been arrested numerous times for drunken driving and had at least two prior convictions.
Phillips was convicted of all charges and was to be sentenced March 4. But the sentencing never occurred because her lawyer requested a new trial. A hearing is scheduled for next week before Superior Court Judge Philip Volland, the same judge who presided over the trial.
The accident in which Bidwell’s daughter, Shelly Reed, was killed in 1983 in some ways mirrors Phillips’ accident. Reed was killed when a 27-year-old man who had been drinking much of the day left an Anchorage bar at midnight and drove the wrong way down one of the city’s main highways, slamming head-on into the young woman’s car. Reed, too, was killed instantly.
In the PSA, Bidwell says, “This is not what I imagined when my daughter was born.”
Bidwell said she was approached by Alaska State Troopers to do the PSA and with the help of the Alaska Highway Safety Office it aired from August 2010 to January of this year. It was seen again around the Fourth of July holiday, she said.
Royal Bidwell said Thursday there is something “haywire” with the legal system if a PSA to help educate the public about the dangers of drunken driving results in Phillips getting a new trial.
“She got a fair trial,” he said.